True Lies (1994)

(Second Viewing, On DVD, July 2010) I hadn’t seen True Lies since it was first released in theatres, and while it has visibly aged since then, it hasn’t lost much of its appeal.  Beginning like a competent James Bond clone featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, the film soon takes a then-unusual turn in portraying a secret agent dealing with matrimonial issues.  While this trope isn’t so fresh now after such films as Mr and Mrs Smith (and was adapted from French film La Totale in the first place), it’s still rich in possibilities that True Lies exploits relatively well.  Unfortunately, what seems more obvious now are the pacing issues: There’s a mid-film lull that more or less coincides with increasingly unpleasant harassment of the lead female character by her husband, and even the reversal/payoff later in the film doesn’t completely excuse the bad feeling left by the sequence.  On the other hand, the action scenes are almost as good as they could be despite some dated CGI work: True Lies may be among director James Cameron’s lesser work, but it shows his understanding of how an action scene can be put together and features mini-payoffs even in the smallest details.  The last half-hour is just one thrill ride after another, culminating in a savvy Miami high-altitude ballet.  In terms of acting, it’s fun to see Eliza Dushku in a small but pivotal pre-Buffy role as the hero’s daughter or Tia Carrere as an evil terro-kitten –although it’s no less strange to see Jamie Lee Curtis get a few minutes of screen time as a sex symbol and I can’t help to think that Schwarzenegger, however great he is playing up to his own archetype, is singularly miscast as a character who should look far meeker.  Uncomfortable mid-film harassment sequences aside, True Lies nonetheless holds up fairly well more than a decade and a half later, thanks to a clever blend of action, humor and married romance.  What really doesn’t hold up, though, is the bare-bones 1999 DVD edition, which is marred by a poor grainy transfer and a quasi-complete lack of supplements.  We know about James Cameron’s reputation for excess during the making of his movies: There’s got to be an awesome documentary somewhere in this film’s production archives.

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